Schnellertollermeier – Rights
Cuneiform Records. CD review by Rob Mallows
I can clearly remember my first impression of seeing Swiss outfit Schnellertollermeier at the Match & Fuse festival a few years ago: “What a racket!”
I wasn’t sure what I’d heard. How I’d categorise it? What I was supposed to feel? Whether I even liked it? But they certainly made an impression on me, in much the same way a wrecking ball makes an impression on the side of a building.
This new album Rights has made things a little clearer. But by goodness, this is no musical walk in the park. It takes effort, perseverance and the most open of minds to get to grips with and, even then, you’re still not sure what just happened.
Schnellertollermeier come from the sedate, fresh mountain air of Switzerland, but are anything but pastoral. Bassist Andi Schnellmann, guitarist Manuel Toller and drummer David Meier are a three-man jazz wrecking crew, smashing up perceptions of what the genre is with Picasso-like effrontery and panache. Though perhaps more minimalist than cubist, their music is brash, right-angled, industrial, painful and confusing. But it’s also utterly different to anything out there and, because of that, it delivers to the listener a metaphorical right hander to the chops.
There are just four tracks on this album. Four heavy, bulky, industrial-sized, hard-edged tracks. Is it jazz? Who knows? It feels more like Rammstein than Hancock at times. But it doesn’t really matter what it is. That it’s out there at all is the point.
Take opener Rights. It’s 13 minutes in which, on the face of it, little happens harmonically or melodically. It seems all rhythm and repetition. But the band’s magic happens at an atomic, even quantum level. If you concentrate, intently, things reveal themselves – new time signatures seem to become corporeal from nothing. Subtle harmonies start rising up out of the droning presence of the drums, bass and guitar.
If you think about it, it’s straightforwardly uncomfortable. If you don’t think about it, it’s mesmeric! Like the vibrations in the particles of energy that make up an atom, you can’t see or feel it but it’s what creates the structure and import of something. You find yourself wanting to hit the pause button, but at the same time drawn to turn it up louder.
This is not your parents’ jazz. No way. Many listeners on hearing this will probably give you blank looks and a furrowed brow. What Schnellertollermeier do is deal in musical parsimony, and it’s a tough business. Single ideas, taken to their ultimate conclusions with every single drop of musical juice squeezed out of each beat or harmonic.
Second track Piccadilly Sources, for example, relents a little, but it too challenges through a lack of any sort of obvious harmonic story. The opening siren-like guitar riff is relentless, cold and bleak, but listen to it long enough, and you imbue it with such colour and life. It is jazz as cacophony, where your ears and mind are the fourth instrument moulding this jagged entity into something more palatable to the soul.
This album’s like watching an industrial loom operating at breakneck speed. All its intricate parts working in effortless, satisfying union and perfect synchronicity that draw you in, oblivious to the fact it’s churning out something quite delicate and comfortable.
If you’re going to listen to this album, wear appropriate safety wear and have a friend with you. It’s not safe, but it’s damned thrilling!